Ex-Virginia governor spars with prosecutor in corruption trial

RICHMOND Va. Tue Aug 26, 2014 7:43pm EDT

Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell arrives with his legal team for his trial in Richmond, Virginia, July 28, 2014.  REUTERS/Jay Westcott

Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell arrives with his legal team for his trial in Richmond, Virginia, July 28, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Jay Westcott

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RICHMOND Va. (Reuters) - Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell said on Tuesday a federal prosecutor was "completely off base" to suggest that he had provided help to a dietary supplement businessman in exchange for loans.

In a heated fifth day on the witness stand in his federal corruption trial, McDonnell said there was no link between $50,000 in loans to a realty company McDonnell was a partner in and help he may have given the entrepreneur, Jonnie Williams Sr.

"You're completely off base," McDonnell, a Republican whose four-year term ended in January, told Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry during the second day of his cross-examination in a packed U.S. District Court in Richmond, the state capital.

Dry ended his questioning of McDonnell by mid-afternoon. Later, McDonnell told defense attorney Henry Asbill that he had made mistakes and that his family had taken too many gifts and loans from Williams.

“I allowed my life to get out of balance,” McDonnell said. “So my judgment was not as good as it should have been.”

But McDonnell emphasized that he had only performed routine courtesies for Williams, as he would for any Virginia businessman. He said that Williams had never specifically asked him to do anything.

McDonnell also reiterated that his wife Maureen’s angry outbursts and bad behavior had estranged them.

A key element of the defense’s case has been that the McDonnells couldn’t have been in a conspiracy to help Williams, because they rarely spoke to each other.

One of Maureen McDonnell’s attorneys has said she had a crush on Williams and that many would consider their relationship to be “inappropriate.”

In his questioning, Dry emphasized that the ex-governor never told his chief counsel or staff about loans from Williams, even though the former Star Scientific Inc chief executive wanted state-backed research for his firm's main product, the anti-inflammatory Anatabloc.

McDonnell has said he never discussed his finances with subordinates.

"At the end of the day, you didn't inform your senior staff ... because you had a real fear that they would start asking questions," Dry said.

McDonnell and his wife face a 14-count indictment for allegedly taking $177,000 in gifts and loans from Williams in exchange for promoting Star Scientific and Anatabloc. The couple have denied any wrongdoing.

If convicted on all charges, the McDonnells could be sentenced to 20 years in prison and face hefty fines.

(Editing by Ian Simpson, Eric Beech and Paul Simao)

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